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By Kevin Gallagher and Angela Vigna
Every day across Pennsylvania, educators and support professionals like us come together to help students reach their full potential in the classroom and beyond.
We work in different school districts, doing different jobs, but the one thing that unites us is our belief that students need to feel safe, supported, and ready to learn in order to succeed at school.
That’s what we have dedicated our careers to doing — and recently we were both honored for the work we do.
Kevin is a National Board Certified Statistics and Computer Science teacher at Keystone Oaks High School in Allegheny County. He received the 2023 Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence for his efforts to make computer science classes more accessible to more students.
Angela, a paraprofessional in the Leechburg School District in Armstrong County, was named the Pennsylvania State Education Association’s Education Support Professional of the Year in recognition of her role as a steadying force in the lives of her students with special needs.
We are proud and thankful to be honored with these awards, but we also know that we couldn’t have achieved what we’ve done without the support, guidance, and hard work of our colleagues in our respective districts.
Which brings us to our central point here. Our students benefit most when educators, support professionals, and administrators work together.
That belief is reflected in the successes we’ve had in our respective roles.
Kevin, in his work to expand access to computer science, understood that in order to make critical changes to the curriculum, he needed buy-in from everyone in his school, from administrators to fellow teachers to office staff to in-classroom paraprofessionals — as well as students and their families.
Kevin built those partnerships as he worked to realign and expand course offerings for students. And his efforts paid off. So much so that Keystone Oaks High School received national recognition from the College Board for the past two years for closing the gender gap in computer science classes. Last year his school was one of only three in the state in which female students made up more than half of all students enrolled in both AP Computer Science classes the district offered.
Angela, during her time as a classroom aide, has provided academic support to hundreds of students with special needs. Her challenging yet rewarding journey has required her to work closely with classroom teachers who count on Angela’s cool demeanor and quick thinking to keep students safe and on track with their learning.
On her first day on the job, Angela was assigned to work with a young man who was non-verbal, needed assistance to use the restroom, and could not eat solid food. Midway through the day, she began to question whether she had what it took to do this job. That thought lasted for all of five minutes before Angela reminded herself that her work was allowing this student to be healthy and take part in the school day.
Angela later had the opportunity to work one-on-one with a student who had Down syndrome and Celiac disease. She spent hours at home researching both conditions to do her best for this student. Angela ended up working with her from first grade all the way through high school graduation, ensuring that she was safe at school and that her needs were met so that she could take an active part in her classes.
These are just a few examples of how the work of teachers and support professionals, while different and unique, support each other. Our students are at the center of it all.
The next time you hear someone lob criticisms at educators or public schools, remember this. The vast majority of us get up every day and go to school with one thing in mind — what can we do today to lift up our students?
That’s what it’s all about. And that’s what we’ll keep doing for every student who passes through our doors.
Kevin Gallagher is a math and computer science teacher at Keystone Oaks High School in Allegheny County. He is one of five educators in the nation to receive the 2023 Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence. This award, presented by the NEA Foundation and sponsored by the Horace Mann Educators Foundation, is one of public education’s highest honors. Angela Vigna, a paraprofessional and local union leader in the Leechburg Area School District in Armstrong County, is the Pennsylvania State Education Association’s 2022 Dolores McCracken Education Support Professional of the Year.
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